Wake Reflection for Sister Charles Marie Coyle, OSU
It was mid-morning on Saturday, March 22, 2003 in Maple Mount, Kentucky. The sun was streaming through the windows of room 300 in Saint Joseph Villa. In our global world, there were sirens sounding in Baghdad, anti-war demonstrations in the streets of New York and San Francisco, and support group gatherings in cities and towns throughout our nation for those whose loved ones were in Iraq. Here in room 300, the Song of Songs was unfolding: “For see, the winter is past…. flowers appear on the earth …. the song of the dove is heard in our land. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!”
In the name of the community, the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, I offer our love and sympathy to Sister Charles Marie’s family and friends, especially to you, Sister of Loretto Theresa Coyle, who was able to be with Sister Charles Marie in her last earthly hours. To the staff in health care, pastoral care, and to Sister Diane Marie we offer our sincere gratitude. To Sisters Charles Ann, Anita, Agnes Cecilia, and Robert Angela, classmates of Sister Charles Marie, we express our heartfelt sympathy.
Sister Charles Marie was born Mary Cecilia, the daughter of Charles J. and Mary Willie Hagan Coyle on December 10, 1911 in New Haven, Kentucky. Mary Cecilia was the second and youngest child in a family of two. In reflecting on her early memories of childhood, Sister Charles Marie writes: “I remember a loving father, mother, and one sister who was two years older than I. Our home training was structured with morning and evening prayers together. It was my mother who taught me the necessary prayers and catechism for my first holy communion when I was 5 years old. Before my mother died of pneumonia when I was eleven, I learned many things about home care, cooking, and sewing.”
The recording of childhood memories continues: “When my mother died, my older sister, Margaret and I had home responsibilities as well as answering the phone and doorbell when our father was away on funeral calls. My father was the only undertaker in New Haven at that time. Two years later a wonderful stepmother, Ethel Hagan, filled the vacancy in my father’s heart and relieved our childhood responsibilities.
My first and second grade teachers were sisters of Loretto. I always wanted to be a sister and often found something to “dress up” as a sister. The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph came to New Haven in 1919 and became a source of inspiration for me. Although I loved the Ursulines, I had the desire to be a Sister of Loretto until the first semester of my senior year. Seemingly, the Ursulines were praying hard for vocations, as was Father James Willett, so by June 1929, on the feast of the Sacred Heart, I said yes to God’s call to be an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph.”
On September 8, 1929, Mary Cecilia entered the postulancy program and received the name of Sister Charles Marie on March 19,1930. She recounts memories of novitiate: “During the first three years of formation we had Sisters Leo, Christina, Teresa, Gabriel, and other substitutes. We were flavored with all types of inspiration.”
Sister Charles Marie professed temporary vows on March 19,1932 and perpetual vows on March 20, 1935. “My first mission was in Glennonville, Missouri,” she writes. “I loved those years. Sister Mary Otho, my first principal and superior, was such a blessing. I learned so much about teaching from her. I had no desire to go to New Mexico until I was assigned there. But then I fell in love with the scenery, the culture, and everything. The azure blue sky, overhanging the top of the mountains, reflects a positive reassurance of God’s loving presence in this setting of splendor and beauty.”
Eventually Sister Charles Marie would spend 38 years in New Mexico, four years at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, four years in Glennonville, Missouri, and 14 years in various schools throughout Kentucky.
In 1992 after 60 years of teaching, Sister Charles Marie retired to the motherhouse. At that time she wrote these words in her individual annals: “My ministry now is accepting God’s will in illness. I continue the treatments for lung cancer. I pray and try to be patient and acceptable of God’s will, doing what I can to help others, while enjoying the fruit of my teaching years. I consider my retirement years sunset years. I am receiving loving care. I have time to be with the Lord as I journey on the road to death.”
2003 brought the road to death sharply into focus for Sister Charles Marie and for the rest of us. As the days of this Lenten season pushed us ever closer to Good Friday, we saw the physical and emotional agony she suffered. As the sunlight streamed through the windows on Saturday morning, March 22, perpetual light caressed her and brought peace.
It was from the Celtic tradition that I found words that you, Sister Charles Marie, might speak to us on this night of remembering: “Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you. I loved you so …twas a little bit of heaven here with you.
Sister Rose Marita
Congregational Leader 2000-2004
March 25, 2003